Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tamar and the Tree

He was an angry man, but he spoke not of it.
When the assault came to his sister, he held himself steady, began plotting, and the poison grew roots.

The story of Tamar and Amnon and Absalom and King David, it's always been disturbing. Inked into history, it's an ugliness we'd rather skip over. But for Tamar, it could not be forgotten, it altered her world in unspeakable ways.
She was beautiful and pure, she'd followed the commands and dreamed of her royal days ahead. But her beauty was dragged through the mud of lust when her half-brother plotted to have her for his own. The sad story is found in 2 Samuel 13 and sinks its ugly claws all the way through the 2 following chapters.

Lovely, obedient Tamar, follows the directions of her father, King David. He asks her to go prepare food and serve her brother Amnon. Jonadab, Amnon's cousin, had helped him devise a scheme that would land unsuspecting Tamar in the bedroom of her lust-filled half-brother. She was innocent; she was a victim if there's ever been one. King David was unaware of the trickery his own son Ammon was tangling around him. Lust, greed, and selfish desires are often silent in the way they steal and kill.  But, such stealthy thieves destroy lives.

Amnon pled with his father the King to send his sister Tamar to care for him in his fabricated illness. After some questioning, the King agreed and sent his daughter Tamar to care for her brother. She obeyed. She went to Amnon, prepared bread and made his favorite dish. But when she came near to serve him, he grabbed her, dragged her into his bed and raped her. She begged him to stop, even offered that he could ask their father the king to allow them to marry if he must have her. But his lust and greed would hear none of her words. He took what was not his and changed her life forever. Then, moments later, his lust turned to hatred and he sent her away. His own guilt judged her and threw her away. It was a murdering of innocence, dreams, and trust.

Tamar tore her royal robes, put ashes on her head, and went away crying --- her face held in her hands.
But her brother Absalom saw her and asked if it was true that their own half-brother Amnon had raped her and then sent her away. She confirmed the story. Absalom told her to “keep quiet for now and not worry about it.” Absalom took the desolate Tamar into his own house and gave her refuge there with his family, it appears she remained there for the rest of her life. (Absalom's brotherly love for Tamar caused him years later to name his one and only daughter after her.)

Keep quiet --- don't worry...
and the venom did it's damage as toxins grew and plots formed. Absalom began falling.

Reading these words during my morning “reach-for-the-robe”, i raised my head midway through the painful story. I looked out the window beside me and saw a great tree just feet away. It was older than me as i can only imagine the number of rings we'd count if we could see its inside lines. Old tangled vines of poison ivy and briars clung to its bark, the tree was stronger than the vines, it grew unhindered by their grip. But on the side of the tree, right beside me, was a deep, long, ugly gouge that penetrated past its bark and dug into the unprotected pulp. Odd-it-may-sound but i was sad for the tree. I could relate to it, it was a visual in front of me of the way a life can be, my own or my friend's or my child's or yours.
We can do the things we know to do, work, love, serve, obey, try... just as the tree is doing the part it knows to do, grow. But things come along that cling to us and tangle themselves around us like the poison ivy and briars on the tree. Things like financial strain or sickness or betrayal or unfaithfulness where faithfulness should have been found.
There are times we do things that grow a vine around us and for those tangles we can only drop our heads and ask God to help us unweave our self-inflicted mess.We must choose a better way...
Then, there are times we do nothing to cause the strangling vines of pain laid against us.
We find ourselves wrapped in suffocating, clinging, entangling things that didn't come to us by our own hands but, much like Tamar, before we realized the strength of their claws, they were there, strong and unrelenting. And we become victims under the weight of pressures we didn't birth and feel helpless to wipe away.
We can endure much though; under the burdensome vines hanging on us, we can press on, to keep doing the part we know is ours to do. No matter what we're enduring --------- life still happens ------ the dishes must be washed and the paycheck must be earned. Work must be done, bills must be paid, floors keep getting dirty. And we, we will persevere. We were made stronger than we first realize, we learn it when vines get thicker and we keep growing stronger. God made His children in most amazing ways.

But then the deep gouges come, those uncontrolled rouge winds blow into our lives. They dig deep and leave us bleeding. We might not be bleeding on the outside, but our mind reels and our hearts hang in our throat.
If you don't have a gouge right now in your life -- thank God!
But don't be surprised when one day a rouge wind blows through and digs something deep into your rings of life.
If you do have a gouged out place in your world --- dare i say it --- can we bear to do it --- thank God...because HE IS WITH US and He is hard at work in the hardest places.
Even now, can you think of someone you love whose "side" has been dug out by something they neither asked for nor wanted.
Sometimes we are the "Tamar", the one wounded deeply; sometimes we are the Absalom, the one who loves and wants to protect the one whose bleeding beside us.
No matter the position we hold for the day, a Tamar or Absalom role, GOD knows what to do with the deep cuts, the rouge winds, the gaping gouges this world inflicts on those just trying to l-i-v-e.
The tree beside my window this morning weeeeeeeeps a sap flow that silently screams of the wrong inflicted on it.
The vines it could endure; the cut has gone too deep.

So it was for Tamar. The wrong done against her was more than she could bear and her pain gouged into the heart of Absalom as well. It was no “little” matter, it was not a vine that could be endured. It had changed her life, drained her dreams, and robbed her of all the hopes her obedience had held before her.
The sins of another dug their filthy claws into her purity; ashes came.
It's in the moments after the wounding our compass is thrown off. We find ourselves on a pathway different than the one we set our feet on under the rising sun of the morning.
And while the life-sap is weeping out of us, we are faced with intense decisions that all of Heaven lingers to hope over. For how we respond... will alter... much...

The tree beside me needs to be cared for, it needs to be covered where its insides are exposed.
The tree might have a chance of survival if someone would conceal its wound and seal what should not be exposed to air. But left uncared for, the weeping resin won't be able to hold back the attack of bugs. Those “flesh” eating bugs are waiting for the flow of resin to weaken enough for their biting mouths to tear into the tender insides ----- and they know ---- they are ready to kill.

Do we realize how very similar it works in our own lives?
We people, our insides are tender. While our outsides might be able to endure much, if we get gouged deeply, our ability to resist the attack is limited unless we cover ourselves in the right ways, with the right things. And those beside us, they must be careful to choose the right responses as well.

Tamar disappears in the story after we are told she hides herself away in her brother Absalom's home --- “she is desolute” it seems for the rest of her days. We don't know what she does to tend the wound.
But her brother Absalom, the one who stood beside her, we know what he did.
Just like the massive tree beside me, Absalom's wound was left exposed to things that will eagerly eat away at the tender-soul-flesh if they can.

Things like anger, bitterness, rage, and fury can lead to schemes and manipulations all working their way towards revenge and death.

Absalom did not go to God with the pain inflicted on his sister. He held it in his own hands and drew it into himself. And poison is poison no matter how it comes. Poison kills --- given a chance it will kill the heart of a person or the thoughts of a mind. It will alter the actions of our hands and warp the words of our mouths.

In this world we will have trouble... it's what our Father wants to be sure we know. But He also tells us not to fear, for HE has overcome this old world.

The tree beside me reminds, “in this world we will have trouble”. Something dug into it.
Things dig into our lives too?
For poor Tamar he own half-brother gouged out a ravine.
Her pain was so deep it dug into her brother Absalom.
It was not covered with a healing ointment from the Holy One,
it was not placed in the hands of the King.
Instead, Absalom began plotting ...
and two years later Absalom has his revenge.

He plans a celebration at his home inviting his father, King David, and all his brothers. David does not attend but the brothers do. And even before Amnon arrives Absalom gives instructions to his servants to wait until Amnon is drunk and then at his signal, kill him!
Two years of plotting. Two years of poison... preparing the way for death...
It was “bugs” eating into the “flesh” of exposed insides.

It's the way of the enemy of our Lord.
'Hurt them, hurt them deeply. Then work to distract them from obeying their Father, because if they obey Him, they're going to lay it in His hands and work to forgive the offender.
And if they F-O-R-G-I-V-E ---- then the poisonous-flesh-eating-bugs can't destroy them.
Forgiveness can't be defeated.
We want to hit them hard when they're down so they react. We want them to react in the flesh – in the very flesh we've just weakened. Don't give them time to pause, let the plotting thoughts come quick, make it sound logical and right, and start digging teeth in to their most tender insides ----- so the poison can destroy ---- them ---- those around them ---- everything.'

While the poison was festering in Absalom, the Lord was not being heard.
His ways were forgotten.
God's ways speak of trusting in the Lord, doing what we can and leaving the rest in His hands. To trust that HE IS A RIGHTEOUS JUDGE and HE WILL JUDGE. Nothing escapes His gaze, nothing is ignored.
Just because He doesn't act quickly, doesn't mean He isn't going to.
Remember His words ----- we are not to be afraid for HE HAS overcome the world.

Absalom grew bitter, he took revenge. And from that moment on, the reading of his life-story is sad and disappointing. For when the deep gouge came to his heart, he left the wound open to the “flesh-eating-bugs” and did not cover the gaping injury with the Robe of God.

It's not easy. Nothing in these words imply simplicity. It's the hard-work of LIVING. 

WHEN the wounds come (not if, when), we must be prepared to run to our Daddy-God, cry it all out to HIM, He hears His kids------ follow His ways, let the healing come from HIS great hands, and pray for the one who wounded us because ........ our healing comes right behind those prayers ---------
healing comes right behind prayers -----
healing comes behind prayers ----
healing comes in prayer ----
healing comes ----
The wrong that has been done to us (or those we love)
will be handled by the God who sees
and He will respond,
in HIS time ----
in HIS ways.
Our healing might precede His dealing with them.
People want to see justice first, and then embrace healing.
Not God.
He sometimes wants to heal first, and then punish the one who caused the pain.
And miraculously, sometimes God will heal the wounded and redeem the repentant wounder.
Only God can bring that kind of beauty from ashes.

Imagine how Absalom's life story might have been different IF he had cared for his sister while leaning in to God to avenge the evil choices of Amnon.
Absalom could have gone to their father, the king, and pressed for the law to demand justice.
Absalom could have gone to his father, the KING, and laid the rod of vengeance in the mighty hands of the One who knew exactly what needed to come to Amnon's door.
Poor Tamar. Poor Absalom. The healing work of trusting God and forgiving others and covering over the wrongs done against them and praying ... they never felt that great flood of Heaven's healing.
It's a painful read --- those next chapters. Absalom had sons, but it is believed they all died at a young age. Tamar was never spoken of in the scriptures again. The toxins that flooded Absalom did not stop at the death of Amnon, it poisoned the rest of his life --- until he himself was killed, while hanging from his hair, tangled in the limbs of a tree.
Oh but imagine how differently their story could be told... if only...

Oh God, please help us to cover our wounds with Your great hands.
For only Your hands know how to deal with those who wound us.
In this world, we're having trouble...
but we-----will-----not------be--------afraid...
You are stronger. You win.

Open our eyes to see the gaping wounds in ourselves and in those beside us, and apply the healing salve that is only found in You.
No life-stealing “bugs” allowed.

We are not desolate or destitute ----- we have a home and a Father.

©2015 Donna Taylor - Reaching for the Robe

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Have Courage --- Be Kind (two beautiful daughters and the mothers who grew them)

Rushing into the restroom, not wanting to delay those who would be waiting for me, i rounded the corner giving myself the shortest time possible to get in and out. But only 3 seconds into my self-allotted one-minute-window, she looked at me and shifted me at my core.
Church was over, we'd lingered longer than the others, talking with much-loved friends we hadn't seen in years. The halls had begun to echo with our voices, we were the last in the building.
But this little treasure was found silently working, cleaning, wiping away the sloppy splatters left on the sink counters in the women's toilet i'd just flew into. Me a flurry, her all peace.
I smiled in response to her, she'd smiled first with her eyes, then with her lips --- everything about her smiled, in such a “little-but-powerful” sort of way. It was a startling sort of kindness. Me a flurry, her all peace. Mine was a hurrying kind of living, not anxious or troubled, just moving fast to beat the clock, but her wall of gentleness drained the rush right out of me and i knew something truly good was in front of me. Without a word from either of us, i knew she was a much-loved-daughter of the One who had made her.
It doesn't happen often to me, not like that. But when it does, i've learned to get ready, something sweeter than we people can come up with is about to be handed to me, if i'll just have eyes to see and ears to receive. It's a “be still and know that I AM GOD...” moment --- and He can do it a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e He chooses to.
Attending to the reason i'd entered the room, i listened to her soft hum as she cleaned.
Then washing my hands, i appreciated the spotless counter and shiny faucets she had just wiped clean. Another lady was cleaning toilets, and mopping out each stall. Taking my used paper towel to wipe away my splatters of water i turned to look at the young lady and thanked her for doing such a nice job. There were three of them in all, silent, busy, working. When i spoke to one, they all froze.
They were not use to being “seen”.
They were there to clean, not to be seen.
But their work was almost done for the day, this public restroom was cleaner than most kitchens. As i thanked all three ladies for taking such good care of the restrooms in our church, they humbly received my words of affirmation. Two were older, the one was perhaps a daughter, i shared my name and asked for theirs. The little package of peace was named Isabella. Her mother stood beside her, Isabella's gentleness had been taught to her by her mother; the love between them was rich. My guess is that their pockets held little, but their hearts were wildly wealthy and i wondered if they knew how wonderfully different they were; how their riches were showing in ways that can't be bought or sold. We talked; the hurry i had entered with was no more. Isabella's mother shared that her daughter always wanted to come to work with her to help on the days she did not have school, “you see it is a way we can be together even though i need to work” (make NO mistake here, this daughter was blessed to help her mother, no one was making her work). So... this daughter and mother were together, cleaning up messes left by others... thankful for a job... thankful for time together... serving others. An uncontrollable gush of love pressed through me towards this girl and her mother, words of affirmation were spoken, the mother's eyes sparkled, young Isabella leaned into her mother with a shy glow of appreciation over having been seen. A fifty foot yacht could not have stayed afloat under the weight of their love. And i knew, i'd been to church twice.

The twins were celebrating 9 years of living, it was their birthday. The cake was baked and decorated with colorful candles. The table was set with safari plates and napkins, there was even a silly pointy party hat waiting at each chair. It was the Sunday we were to fly home from Kenya, but first, we'd get to thank God for making “them”, we'd make sure they felt our joy over the fact that they had been born. I'd asked their precious mother if we could give them a surprise party, she'd joyfully agreed, saying, “they've never had a birthday cake, oh how happy they will be”. At 11AM they came walking down our long, dusty drive, dressed in their sweet Sunday best, so excited to have been invited to “mum's and dad's”, not knowing a party was bulging inside the walls of our small lake cottage. In truth, we were just as excited over their surprise party as we were over the fact that just 9 hours later we'd be boarding a plane and headed home for a 3 month visit.

There's something beautiful beyond words when real joy shows on a child's face. Their joy was present because they were coming for a visit ----- all dressed up and feeling special just to know they were wanted and welcome and loved. Their joy was present even before they knew of the party we'd prepared for them.
The mother and children walked towards our cottage, laughing together. Enjoying each other, they are thankful for more things than many people ever pause to notice... this family lives in one room, all together... but... they live as if a palace surrounds them. Inside their hearts, it requires a palace to hold the love ----- on the outside it feels best when they have no walls between them. As they approached our porch, we swung the doors wide open shouting, “Happy Birthday!”, the children froze. Then slowly, after sweetly removing their dusty shoes (no one asked them to, they do it as a show of respect), they walked towards the table in awe of the colorful party plates and napkins. They didn't know what to do with the pointy hats, our son Peter helped them there. Soon party hats were on and party horns were blowing ----- oh the pure pleasure of watching them celebrate their own birth in a way they'd never imagined before.
They're birthday cake was a chocolate sheet cake --- just like the one i'd baked for all our precious 3 kids for all their wonderful birthdays back on Mockingbird Road. Grace and Peter's birthday cake eagerly waiting for them, resting in the same-same pan i'd used to bake Mike, Maggie, and Peter's birthday cakes. If a metal pan could speak ---- well, that one's had a sweet life.
Presents were given, a tiny dollhouse for Grace, 4 toy cars for Peter, candles were lit, we all sang together. Eve, their mother, was even more excited than her nine year old treasures as she watched her love towards them be multiplied before her eyes. She'd struggled intensely just to put food in their mouths for 7 of those 9 years. But when God moved us to Kenya, He gave her a job working in our home. Our obedience was about so much more than us ---- God put the puzzle pieces together that needed to be in place. Eve needed a job, we needed help, her children needed food and school and a safer place to live. And on this day we were celebrating together --- the goodness of the Lord. Their older sister Faith sat at the table as well. She's beautiful in ways unable to be captured by camera or words. Poised humility --- that's her. It's as if she's a princess whose chosen to live with less rather than more. There's a Cinderella-ness to her, she's gentle and caring, seeking nothing for herself, yet you get the real sense of knowing she's always in her Father's eyes, held very close to His heart. No matter that her earthly father abandoned her... her REAL FATHER holds her dear.
When candles were blown out and cheers where finished, without a word from anyone, little Grace bows her small head and begins praying. She's serious about her Lord, we all feel like children beside the maturity of her soul.
She prays long... not quickly...
She has her first birthday cake e-v-e-r in front of her ----- but she won't be rushed, she must thank her Daddy-God. Oh the lessons little Grace could teach the world.
Then theirs cake on plates and juice in cups, presents are opened, and photos snapped.
We've done it, we've celebrated how thankful we all are that GOD MADE Grace and Peter!
But where we are thinking we're finished, Faith softly clears her throat and Grace and Peter smile.
Eve smiles like a proud mother, as Faith leads her sister and brother singing a song naming the books of the Bible... all of them... all-of-them... in order. We are stunned!! And then, they begin quoting scriptures, perfectly. They're not struggling, no, those Holy Words come rolling off their little nine year old tongues just as easily as chocolate cake just passed over them.
Faith has been teaching her little brother and sister all these things, not with a whip or stick in hand, but with the gentlest of hands and the kindest of ways in the single room where they live.
“Have courage, be kind”, words from the latest Cinderella movie --- never seen by beautiful Faith, but beautifully LIVED in her every waking moment.
Faith loves Grace and Peter, they love her, and Eve covers them all with such a loyal mother's love ---- it's not just words i'm typing ---- it's real. She's a mother alone filling stomachs with food and hearts with love and pouring Jesus into the souls she's been given charge over ------- and it's all so captivatingly beautiful. It's another glimpse of church --- there's no steeple overhead, but HE is present and pleased.

In this world, there are beautiful ones.
They are self-less and undemanding. They are busy working and sharing and helping. They are poised and ready to teach, but they won't force themselves on others. They don't think of themselves as wise or “able” or important or strong. They don't criticize or judge, they don't have time for that, they are too busy in the middle of being courageous and kind.
The world won't like them...
Oh God... the world most likely won't be kind to them...
Little Isabella might be ridiculed and looked down on by those who think they're important, those who criticize, those who judge.
Lovely Faith might be lustfully looked at by those who are strong in dark ways, those who take, those who are not kind.
But Lord, You A-D-O-R-E them ---- they are priceless masterpieces formed in your hands --- they live more wonderfully than the ones who are loud and in front.
You've given Isabella and Faith to women who might be much more like mother-Mary than they realize. Women who work hard and love well and care nothing for drawing attention to themselves, for they have the pleasure of feeding the mouths you've given them to feed, and they do it with hands roughened by work and strengthened by You.

So Lord, thank you for sharing Isabella and Faith with me, with us. Thank you for the quiet, seen, gentle, strong way You teach us in the way these courageous, kind ones live and love. You are the One who says the “first will be last and the last will be first” and i'm oh so thankful for Your ways. Because i will be eagerly perched and ready to cheer these two beauties on when YOU move them from the positions of “last” this world holds them in ---- and they are placed at the front of the line of those who have found great favor in Your ever watchful eyes.
Lord, they are lovely.
Please protect them fiercely... please place a wall around them that holds back those who would do evil against them.
And Lord, please continue to multiply your goodness in them, so that those who think they belong in the front, those who would look down on those they think are behind/beneath/below them, would instead be overwhelmed and amazed at the beautiful ways You are found where kindness and goodness and gentleness and faithfulness live.

Have courage ----- be kind.
Love God --- Love others.

Isabella and Faith ---- i'm cheering for you ---- and so thankful for your mothers... they are lovely, as are you!
(and Lord we thank you for the many others like Isabella and Faith and the mothers who raised them up ---- like: Micah, Saranne, Lorene, Pauline, Jennifer, Isabella, Jamie, Mary, Kim, Emily, Floy, Shirley, Sharla, MacKenzie, Abby, Eva, and Hillary.)

Happy Mother's Day !!! (a few days late but celebrating still)